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House subcommittee hearing sheds spotlight on truck size/weight issues

Yesterday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Highways and Transit Subcommittee held a hearing to analyze the impacts of existing federal regulations on truck size and weight, and discuss the lack of uniformity among regulations, which makes enforcement difficult.

The Bush administration plans to relax restrictions on truck size and weight, which has become a complicated and "very controversial" issue, said U.S. Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.), the subcommittee's ranking member.

"Federal regulations governing the size and weight of trucks on our major highways have an impact not only on the efficiency of freight movement, but also on interstate commerce, infrastructure construction and maintenance costs, and highway safety," he said.

Truck-size limits were first set by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, which initiated construction of the nation's interstate system. But over time, limits have evolved into a framework of laws and regulations governing truck size and weight, said Duncan.

In May, Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) introduced the Safe Truck and Operations and Preservation Act of 2008, or STOP bill, which aims to maintain an 80,000-pound weight limit for trucks using interstates and establish a maximum truck length of 53 feet. Larger trucks present safety risks, including longer stopping distances, rollovers and the potential for the last trailer to sway into an adjacent lane, the senators believe.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) and American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA) agree, and oppose any legislation that would increase truck size and weight limits.

Longer and heavier trucks would divert between 100 million and 225 million tons of freight annually from rail to highways, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation study.

"Moving this much additional freight by highway would require the consumption of between 500 million and 1.1 billion additional gallons of diesel fuel, producing 1.6 to 3.8 million tons of additional pollutants and 5.6 to 12.3 million tons of additional carbon dioxide each year," said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Edward Hamberger and ASLRRA President Richard Timmons in a joint statement. "Diverting these volumes to highways would also increase traffic congestion, cause highways and bridges to deteriorate more rapidly, and make it more difficult for railroads to invest the money needed to expand the capacity of the nation's freight rail network, given the subsidy to larger trucks."

The AAR and ASLRRA support efforts to increase the usage of intermodal — a cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to highway transportation — vs. increasing truck size and weight, Hamberger and Timmons said.

"For many policy reasons, Congress decided in 1991 to freeze truck sizes and weights," they said. "That was the proper course of action then, and it is the right course of action now."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 7/10/2008